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Backstrom, Wild agree to four-year extension

by Mike G. Morreale

"A snapshot of Nik's three NHL seasons shows a staggering run of success, but to see that whole picture unfold daily, we have not been surprised. Instead, we are proud of what he has accomplished, and we are excited for what he will."
-- Wild GM Doug Risebrough

The Minnesota Wild will not lose goalie Niklas Backstrom.

With the trade deadline set for Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET and the risk of losing their pending unrestricted free agent All-Star goaltender July 1, the club signed Backstrom to a four-year contract extension Tuesday that includes a no-trade provision.

"Nik is one of the most reliable players and people on our team, and that combination enables winning,” said Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough. "A snapshot of Nik's three NHL seasons shows a staggering run of success, but to see that whole picture unfold daily, we have not been surprised. Instead, we are proud of what he has accomplished, and we are excited for what he will."

According to Wild Assistant General Manager of Hockey Operations Tom Lynn, the length of the deal and the no-trade provision were critical.

"(Backstrom) has a no-trade for two years and his no-trade continues as long as he's basically our No. 1 goalie as far as his stats go," Lynn said. "The no-trade was complicated."

The impetus to getting Backstrom signed before July 1 comes from lessons learned last summer.

The club couldn't sign unrestricted free agents Brian Rolston and Pavol Demitra; they dealt Rolston's rights to Tampa Bay for a fourth-round draft pick, and got nothing for Demitra, who signed with Vancouver.

The Wild currently are 10th in the Western Conference with 65 points, but they're just two points shy of seventh-seeded Edmonton and three behind sixth-seeded Columbus. Backstrom was a central part of any late-season push to return to the top eight.

"The biggest thing I'm really happy about is I have an opportunity to stay with this great organization for some more years," said Backstrom. "As a player, you can't let these things go to your head and you just have to focus on your job and play the best you can every night. I really didn't have to tell my agent (Don Baizley) anything. He knows how I feel about Minnesota and playing here. It's great to play in front of these fans and to come back home and play in front of a sold-out crowd every night. Don knows that these things really matter to me."

The 31-year-old native of Helsinki, Finland, is 28-18-4 in his third season with the Wild. He's fourth in the League with a 2.24 goals-against average and .925 save percentage and tied for second with six shutouts. He played in his first NHL All-Star Game this season.

There's no doubt Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire is happy he'll have his starting goaltender long-term. Lemaire, who has coached his share of top-caliber goalies, including Martin Brodeur in New Jersey, ranks Backstrom near the top of his list.

"What pushes Nik is his desire to improve," Lemaire told "He came into this season really focused on his job and he's at his best right now. He's great on the first shot because he's a great positional goalie -- always looking to gain the initial edge on the shooter. You really have to place a perfect shot on Nik to beat him. He won't give a lot of bad goals and has been very steady. What you see is what you're going to get with Nik."

Did Backstrom ever consider testing the free-agent market?

"I don't know, I guess that crosses your mind, but I was thinking about every-day things most of the time like practice and game days," Backstrom said. "You can't be too satisfied what happened in past; you have to be hungry for more and I want to be better every game. I think I've improved a lot in my 2 1/2 years in Minnesota and I want to be able to have good surroundings that will help me be as good as I can be."

Rookie right wing Cal Clutterbuck has been amazed by Backstrom's durability.

"He's so reliable and so consistent and that's all you could really ask for in a goaltender," Clutterbuck said. "He goes above and beyond the call of duty as far as winning games for us single-handedly, makes the big saves and makes the routine saves. It's a credit to him because he works extremely hard."

Among goalies who have played 100 or more games since the beginning of the 2006-07 season, Backstrom ranks first in the NHL in save percentage (.924), second in goals-against average (2.19) and winning percentage (.660), and is tied for fifth in shutouts (15). He has also stopped 14 of 16 shootout attempts this season (4-1, .875 save percentage).

In 144 career starts, Backstrom has allowed three or fewer goals 127 times and two or fewer 86 times. In 66 starts following the NHL All-Star Game in each of his first three seasons, he is 40-10-11 with a 2.04 GAA and .926 save percentage.

In 150 NHL games, he is 84-39-18, with a 2.19 GAA, .924 save percentage and 15 shutouts.

"Nik works hard at his game," Lynn said. "I think the most telling statistic is the shootout. The first year, he was the worst in the League in shootouts (3-5, .531 save percentage); this year he's the best (4-1, .875 save percentage). Why is that? Because he went home all summer and worked on it -- watched video, worked on it with players, worked on everything he could to get better in shootouts."

Contact Mike Morreale at

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